For the first time in 20 years, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts-based ballet company is presenting a new, full-length production this Friday.
In its unassuming second floor headquarters on Fenn Street in Pittsfield, the Albany Berkshire Ballet company is hard at work at something big.
For the first time in 20 years, the ballet is supplementing its annual performance of “The Nutcracker” with a second full-length production.
“Well, we’re in preparation for the premiere for Paula Webber’s new production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which we’re premiering August 23rd at The Egg," said Mary Talmi. "It’s a brand new production, all new choreography, all new costumes, and we’re absolutely thrilled. It has turned out to be extraordinarily beautiful. The dancers look exquisite. Costumes by Sam Meredith are really beyond beautiful, and we’re looking forward to a very good audience at The Egg.”
Talmi is the ballet’s associate artistic director. Friday’s premiere in Albany is a big moment for the company, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“Full-length ballet productions are very expensive to mount, and you need to have done the fundraising, you need to have that money in place before you can hire the dancers, before you can hire the choreographer, and before you can give your company the length of time needed to mount the production effectively," she told WAMC. "And that’s been the real story here, is one, with every nonprofit arts organization – whether it’s ballet, theater, or opera – you need to have that funding in place.”
Talmi estimates the cost of staging “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at at least $90,000. The last time the ABB attempted this was 10 years ago, in the midst of the Great Recession. That effort was scuttled by poor ticket sales. Now, Talmi says the ballet’s fundraising efforts are at an all-time high.
“It’s been a matter of being able to assess where the company has been in the framework of the Berkshires, in the Tristate area – where does the company fit within all of these other nonprofits that are struggling for the same arts dollar," said Talmi. "And I think there have been times when that’s been harder to figure out. It’s been harder to get the support of the community behind the ballet when there have been such huge organizations like Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, Barrington Stage, going after the same grants, the same funding.”
She says the company’s current fundraising success is reliant on cohesive performances both on stage and off.
“Your management team has to be as driven to succeed as your artistic team," said Talmi. "You have to understand each other very well, you have to share a common goal, and you have to reach forward with the same amount of energy. Everybody has to be pulling in the same direction in order to make a nonprofit arts organization successful.”
Talmi says that this year, the ranks of the ballet are swelling, and that the ABB is bringing on celebrated dancer Eric Otto as a member of its artistic team. Though she’s only in her second year as associate artistic director, Talmi is overseeing a rebranding of the company that mirrors her experiences with it from decades ago – fusing new works with staples of the art form.
“The parallel paths of building new repertoire through process and performance and the restaging of the classics is – actually speaks to the history of the ballet, because that’s what Albany Berkshire Ballet was doing," she said. "That is exactly what Madeline Cantarella Culpo has always done.”
Talmi not only trained under ABB Director Culpo as a student, but previously managed the ballet in the 1980’s.
“We brought in three major choreographers – Laura Dean, Bill T. Jones, and Charles Moulton, all under National Endowment for the Arts grants," said Talmi. "And so there we were, doing our 'Coppélia,' and 'Petrushka,' and 'Carmina Burana,' but we also had this parallel path of bringing into the Berkshires these major contemporary choreographers so that the company was really at the forefront of doing that.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” debuts at The Egg in Albany Friday night and at the Academy of Music in Northampton Saturday. It comes to Pittsfield’s Colonial Theater on September 7th.